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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Remembering India’s First Woman Pilot Sarla Thakral, Who Conquered Skies In A Cockpit

  • IWB Post
  •  March 15, 2019


“Ever since I was a girl guide in school, my motto was: always be happy. It is very important for us to be happy and cheerful. After all, we humans, unlike animals, have been blessed with the gift of being able to laugh. This one motto has seen me tide over the crises in my life,” used to say Sarla Thakral, India’s first woman pilot who passed away on 15th March 2008. While the country did lose a gem who never rested a day in her life, she is still the immortal legend inspiring many across the nation.

It was in the year 1936, when Sarla Thakral, a fiercely ambitious and dedicated individual got an aviation pilot license in an era where the cockpit was reigned by men only. Married and mother to a four-year-old, she flew a Gypsy Moth, dressed in her saree.  

Following her successful flight, she instantly became a celebrity across the then undivided nation. “It was extraordinary,” reminisced Sarla. “People from different states began to claim me as one of their own.’’

“My first husband was a pilot as were some other members of his family. After I got married to him at 16 and was blessed with a daughter, both my husband P D Sharma and his father encouraged me to fly,” she said in her interview with The Tribune in 2006. “My father-in-law was even more enthusiastic and got me enrolled in the flying club. I knew I was breaching a strictly male bastion but I must say the men, they never made me feel out of place.”

“My husband was the first Indian to get airmail pilot’s license and flew between Karachi and Lahore. When I completed my required flying hours, my instructor wanted me to fly solo, but my husband was away. All I did was ask for permission to wait till he returned,” she added.

She lost her husband in a plane crash in 1939 becoming a widow at the young age of 24, following which she went to Jodhpur to get a commercial pilot’s license but since World War II had started by then, flying was suspended. Never the person to sit idle, she joined the Mayo School of Art to train at the Bengal school of painting in Lahore and obtained a diploma in fine arts and started earning her livelihood.

After the partition, she moved to Delhi, where she met her second husband, R. P. Thakral.

“I dabbled in designing costume jewelry, which was not only worn by the who’s who of that time but also supplied it to Cottage Emporium for 15 years. After that, I took to block printing and the sarees designed by me were well sought after. This too continued for 15 years. Then I began designing for the National School of Drama`85 and all along I kept painting, ” said Sarla.

“I like to take things to their conclusion,” she added.

H/T: The Tribune & The South Asian


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